The Dish: Q-and-A with Foremost Baking Company
Baker Ian Cappelano explains his passion for artisan bread-making.
Foremost Baking Company is a wholesale bakery run by three partners, Ian Cappelano, Michael Lingwall and Peter Kobulincky, in the Butcher Block Mill in Providence. We sat down for a cup of coffee with Cappelano at Faust in the Dean Hotel, where he is also a part-owner along with Kobulincky and Lingwall, who is the chef at the restaurant, and Mike Sears.
How did you get into bread and baking? My grandmother always baked fresh bread every day, so that’s a thing my mother started doing as well. I got into it professionally while I was going to college. I was working at Pastiche in the front of the house doing coffee and plate decoration, but then I needed an overnight job. I interviewed with Jim Williams at Seven Stars. He trained me while they were still on Hope Street in the one single location, probably around 2004. At that point, it was such a small operation. There were only three bakers a day.
How did you develop your specific recipes? Bread is one of those funny things. There’s no real ownership on formulas. It’s just mostly technique and your ability to control and develop the flavors through fermentation. The science part is the tricky part, and that’s the part that I like. That’s where you can touch the dough, or look at the dough, and know how much longer it needs. That’s where the craft of it comes in and a true artisan starts to excel.
Is there a secret to your bread? Just time and patience, and measurement. I am not trying to compare my craft to something so elevated, but it’s like wine-making. Once it’s in the barrels, you just have to let it do its thing, and you follow your gut.
So how did you launch your bakery? Peter [Kobulnicky] and I started the bakery, and we actually didn’t mean to. We met at Seven Stars, and then he left for New York to go work for Thomas Keller at Bouchon Bakery. He did a year there, and while he was there, we were making plans for what we were going to do after he finished his stint. We started to develop plans for a wood-fired pizza oven type of restaurant, serving charcuterie plates, pizzas, beer and wine. In our naivete, thinking this was going to go off without a hitch, we started buying all the equipment. Like everything else, you find out it costs way more money than you ever think it will. Then we realized the pizza oven thing wasn’t going to go through, and we had all this dough-mixing equipment, so we decided to start a bakery. We ended up moving all of our equipment into storage and a few things into the basement of Loie Fuller’s. We really got to know the owners [Desi and Eric Wolf], and they liked our drive and passion. We started off baking bread and rolls for the restaurant. And then it sort of took off from there. Eric was good friends with Tom [Toupin] at White Electric, and that was during the time when Bristol Bakery was closing down. Tom called Eric and was like, “Hey man, I need your bakers.” And Eric was like, “All right. Let me see what they can do.” So I said to Peter, “We’re going to make this happen. We’ll think of some muffins and scones, and we’re starting in two days."
And now you supply thirty businesses? Something like that. We’ve tried to seriously control our growth in terms of our equipment and delivery constraints, in order to deliver exceptionally fresh product. We have people, but not many people. We bake at the Butcher Block Mill in Providence, and the Foremost partnership is composed of myself, Peter Kobulincky and Michael Lingwall. Mike is also the head chef [at Faust in the Dean Hotel], and I’m in charge of front of the house and beverage curation at the restaurant. I am doing some of the business management for both businesses. Peter is the head baker for Foremost and he manages pretty much everything there.
What types of pastry do you make and where are they served? Croissants, muffins, cookies, scones, all the morning time goodies at White Electric, Coffee Depot in Warren, Cafe La France in the train station, Small Point Cafe, Cable Car, the Shop and Easy Entertaining. We are trying to push more of the bread, because in terms of cycling, we can get that through the oven faster, so we can make more of it. Our bread accounts far exceed our pastry accounts now.
What makes the timing of your baking different from other bakeries? We do two different bakes a day. We have an overnight bake for all of our a.m. accounts. Their bread is baked around 3 a.m. Then we bake for afternoon drop-off. That was always my problem with restaurant service bread. You go to a restaurant, you’re paying decent money for a meal, and the bread was probably baked at 8 or 9 p.m. the night before. That is some old bread. Our bread comes out of the oven at 2 p.m., and our drop-offs start at 3:30 p.m., so by five o’clock, the bread is only three hours old as opposed to fifteen or eighteen hours old.
Do you have any tricks of the trade that might help a home baker? The first one is to buy the book from Tartine [bakery in San Francisco]. He’s [Chad Robertson] got a book [Tartine Bread]. It’s fantastic. His stuff is so awesome. Get that book and a big cast iron pot because that’s how he does everything.
Most recipes for dough-making at home always call for instant dry yeast. The problem with instant dry yeast is that it’s designed for serious longevity in your fridge or freezer, and most formulas have twice as much yeast as you need. Instead, go to your local bakery, and pick up some fresh yeast. You’ll have to ask the bakers for some, and they will probably give you a little hunk. Giving away a few grams shouldn’t be problem. The fresh yeast is far superior. It’s live active yeast and it is precisely and scientifically controlled.
The next tip: Almost all bread formulas don’t have enough water in them. So you’re going to put the ingredients in your KitchenAid mixer, and you’re going to be mixing the dough, and it’s going to have a clay-like doughy texture. Most of our dough formulas call for between 65 and 75 percent water by flour weight. For example, if your recipe calls for two cups of flour by volume, I would weigh out the flour and then add 60 percent water weight. The next trick is mixing it properly. Don’t be afraid to mix dough. You can never over mix dough on first speed. Kick it on first speed. Let it go. Go have a glass of wine. Sit outside for second. You also want to make sure the salt, flour and all other ingredients are properly incorporated. Once you kick it on second or third speed and you have your dough attachment on, you might have to let it go for ten minutes, and you’ll know when it comes together. It’ll be soupy for a little while. You might have to stop it and scrape the bowl in order to get the rest of the flour off the sides. Kick it back on to high speed, and if you watch it, you can see when it starts to come together. It will go from a big gloppy mess to a smooth and shiny ball, and it will start climbing up the hook. If you stop it, you can grab a hunk off, and play with it between your thumb and forefinger. You’ll be able to make a window out of the dough like blowing a piece of bubble gum, but it shouldn’t break. That’s when you’ll know you have a properly milled gluten matrix. It will be tricky to work with when it’s that wet, but it’s going to be delicious. That’s a reason our bread is so good. All of our dough formulas are high hydration which allows the yeast to sing. Yeast is supposed to thrive in a liquid medium so for it to ferment properly and bring those flavors out, it needs higher hydration.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your craft? I have trained a lot of bakers, and some of the RISD kids I’ve hired have been the best ones because they are artists. It’s so easy for me to do now, because I’ve been doing it for years, but it’s so hard to explain. That’s what makes it an artisan craft. It’s the intangibles. That’s the difference between someone who just knows how to do it and someone who excels.